Harnessing the power of consumer reviews on high-ranking websites like Google, Trip Advisor, and Yelp may be the biggest secret to your business's future success.
In an online world where consumers are more informed than ever, marketing is turning more toward inbound methods and people are becoming less affected by standard advertisements the consumer review has become increasingly important. So important, in fact, that most consumer won't even consider a product that has received a lot of negative reviews from others. Company and product reviews affect search engine rankings, too, not just consumer impressions. What do you do, then, to ensure you are getting as many good reviews as possible? What can be done about those negative reviews - especially the ones that hold no basis in reality?
Playing by the Consumer Review Rules
There is a reason why people often use sports analogies when discussing business - there are rules to everything you do in the business and sporting worlds. The very first step in the sporting world is to know the rules of the game you are playing and in business it is no different. When working with consumer reviews you may be surprised to find that there are rules which apply to those reviews. Some of these rules can work in your favor, some may not, but all are in place to protect you and your consumer in a fair balance. Based on the rules we've read for multiple major review websites we've created the following lists of dos and don'ts when it comes to securing quality online consumer reviews for your product or company.
How NOT To Get Quality Consumer Reviews
Let's start with the "don'ts" of online consumer reviews. Use the following list as a guideline for your own best business practices.
When working toward gaining quality consumer reviews do not:
- Write them yourself. - This is actually against the rules of most major websites and there are ways they can catch you.
- Get employees to write them. - Again, this is against the rules of most major websites. Even employees who have legitimate experience with your products and services are biased parties.
- Get friends or family to write them. - The point is to get honest reviews from non-biased persons.
- Pressure your consumers to write them. - If your consumers feel pressured to write your reviews they may not have as nice of things to say as you may think. Also, in many business circles such pressuring is considered unethical.
- Pay someone to write them. - Promising payment or any type of reward to your consumers for writing positive reviews about your product can be considered bribery in some circles. Though affiliate marketing is perfectly legal in most places, allowing someone to join an affiliate network and paying them to write you a good review on Yelp are two very different things.
- Coerce someone to write them. - It really should go without saying that your consumers should never feel threatened if they do not leave you a good review.
Set Yourself Up For Review Success
The best way to get positive reviews from your consumers is to create an incredible experience for them which they are excited to tell others about. Set yourself apart from your competition by crafting a unique experience or product for your customers and backing that up with excellent customer service.
Although you should never pressure your customers or clients into giving you a positive review it is OK to let them know how they can leave feedback for you on influential websites such as Google and Yelp. Whether through a follow-up email, a website popup, or an actual information card you can let your consumer know where they can leave a review of their experience and what to include in that review. You can even give them a list of things you'd like their feedback on, such as food quality and customer service representatives.
Here's a quick list of things that review websites like to see in reviews (you can share this information with your customers):
- Specific and relevant information. - Focus your review on the actual place, product, or service you are reviewing and leave out irrelevant information like social commentary and political views.
- Focus on what makes the experience stand out.
- Only post recent experiences. - Some websites, such as Trip Advisor, won't even post reviews of experiences from over a year ago because they lose their relevance over time. Encourage your consumers to leave a review ASAP.
- Tell others what they are likely to experience if they visit the place, purchase the product, or use the service. - Even though you're writing about your own experiences the people reading the review want to know what they will experience.
- What did you like and what did you not like/where is there room for improvement
Overview of Important Online Review Policies
The guidelines we've given here are great for knowing what you are and are not allowed to do as a business when it comes to consumer reviews on big websites. For more detailed information about what specific websites expect from consumers who leave reviews, check out their review policies.
Dealing with Negative Online Reviews
It will happen. It's nearly unavoidable. You will get a few negative reviews over time. So what can be done about them? The truth is that you can actually use them to your advantage.
Handling Legitimate Complaints
Respond to complaints as quickly as possible and do so in a way that shows you care. Stay vigilant to online complaints by monitoring the major complaints websites and by typing your company name and "complaint" in a search engine. As corporate communications manager Leah Brownridge pointed out in an interview with Global News, your quick responses show that you care. Make a public apology on the complaint thread and encourage the poster to contact your customer service department directly. If you are set up to accommodate it, you can even let them know you've opened a complaint ticket for them and are ready with a potential solution to their problem. When consumers feel cared for they grow a sense of loyalty to your brand.
When Others Do Not Play by the Consumer Review Rules
Now that you know the rules you know how to play the game, but what about when other people don't adhere to the rules? What happens when non-consumers leave you a negative review or when real consumers skew the truth and leave a negative review that simply isn't called for?
There is, of course, the option of suing someone who you feel is slandering your company with false allegations. One plumbing company in Toronto, Ontario did just that when they believed that a customer was posting false negative reports about them online. As can be seen by the media attention this issue received, however, pursuing such an option may not be in the best interests of your company on a public relations level.
Leah Brownridge thinks it is important to respond to the negative review, whether you feel it was warranted or not. If you look through your company's information and do not find the client in your files and, thus, think it’s a fake, you can ask the poster for proof of purchase, etc. but it would be best to direct them to your customer service department instead of getting into any sort of an argument in an online forum. Worried about how it will look if you don't call the person out on their bad behavior? You can always use a rote response such as the following: "We cannot locate you in our client files but would love to rectify this issue. Can you please contact our customer service department so we can investigate the issue further?"
How to Prevent Negative Reviews
Obviously, the best way to handle negative reviews is never to get them in the first place. While this may be unavoidable (no person, product, or business is perfect 100% of the time) the following pointers may help you avoid unnecessary negative reviews:
- Provide your customers and clients with an incredible experience. - Negative experiences with your employees can lead people to write negative reviews of your company even if you were able to deliver a superior product or service. Your customer service representatives and anyone else who acts as a face of your company should treat your customers with respect and gratitude to create a good experience. Creating a great experience often means going above and beyond but will leave a fantastic impression on your consumers.
- Follow up to ensure satisfaction. - Give your customers and clients a chance to air any issues they may have and make any complaints directly to your company (instead of an online third party) by contacting them within a week of their purchase.
- Do more than just resolve problems. - If your company makes a mistake, if your representatives are rude, or if your product/service is not up to par don't stop at simply rectifying the issue. Instead, give your customers/clients a little something extra so they will remember just how sorry you were for the inconvenience.